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The Altman Foundation was founded in 1913 with the bequest of Benjamin Altman’s capital stock in his department store B. Altman & Co. Since that time, the Foundation had stayed true to Altman’s vision of serving the people of New York City while transforming into a focused, strategic philanthropic organization.
From 1913 to 1985, the Altman Foundation owned and operated seven B. Altman & Co. stores, using the profits for grantmaking. During its first 70 years, the Foundation had no staff members, but the board made grants totaling $800,000 a year. Grantmaking in this era was thoughtful but followed no particular structure or strategy.
Tax law changes in the early 1980s necessitated that the Foundation sell off B. Altman & Co, which resulted in the endowment growing by $86 million. Rather than maintain its current grantmaking, the Foundation seized upon the opportunity to evolve its organization. The board brought in a consultant who proposed diversifying the board, dividing the financial portfolio among multiple investment advisors, and publishing an annual report and guidelines for grant applicants. In 1985, the board hired the Foundation’s first director.
In 1995, the Foundation elected a new board president who had two primary goals: to practice strategic philanthropy and to focus more attention on asset management. This led to the creation of a new strategic plan in 2001. The board implemented its plan by discussing policy and strategy during meetings rather than focusing on individual grant applications, and staff members referred often to the plan to guide decision making.
By 2005, the Altman Foundation was poised to take its strategic philanthropy to the next level by implementing a broader system of research and evaluation that would improve all aspects of its work in and for New York City.
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Case No: SI84